I am an exceptional person.
In my previous post, I explained that this merely meant that I was a person with many idiosyncrasies–some of which have historically driven my friends and family to distraction. I mentioned that, while my detail-oriented personality is often a gift, it can also be a profound challenge.
Take yesterday and today, for instance. Everything was over-stimulating–the tiniest little thing. People cutting food from several feet away sounded like claps of thunder. When Naomi, Jedediah, and Hannah spoke in animated excitement about their days, their moderately-loud voices registered for me as shouting, and all I wanted to do was flee to the quietest environment I could find. I can no longer eat any Campbell’s soup products with any enjoyment because I can taste many of the chemical additives they use. The same goes for certain non-organic brands of chocolate milk. At this very moment, I’m listening to the muffled chatter and dulled instruments of a television that was never turned off, and wishing with all possible fervor that the sound perpetrator would eliminate all that noise. Quite involuntarily, I can smell the chlorine in our drinking water, and this often puts me off from hydrating properly.
All of this is workable–a nuisance, yes, but nothing I haven’t experienced before, and certainly nothing that need impact my spiritual life. But then there are the more profound challenges. The same mind that can pick out a single anointed singer in a congregation of hundreds or thousands also has such literal tendencies that, if I am told that we will be going somewhere in fifteen minutes, I eschew our departure at fourteen-and-a-half minutes. The same heart that cherishes the cold and snow because it brings people closer together trembles so much at the thought of encountering bees or other stinging creatures that I scarcely leave the house during the summer. If you stub your toe, you acknowledge that it hurt, but forget ten minutes later that you ever sustained an injury; for me, the same stubbed toe often hurts for over an hour. The same trait that causes me to associate a lilac-scented air freshener with a magnificent day of freedom has also caused me to refuse any analgesia save Tylenol and Motrin since 2005, due to a traumatic medical experience. The same mind that gets so readily focused on a precious worship song or something I have read in the Word is terrible at multi-tasking; if I’m asked to make coffee, reminded to call to schedule an appointment sometime, and asked requested to describe the armor of God–all things I am more than capable of doing individually–I may pause with a coffee filter in my hand, describe the armor of God in elaborate detail, and relegate the appointment call to the back of my mind, but not without first having to deliberately assign priorities to those things–and never, never would I make coffee WHILE describing the armor of God! I have always had a tendency to sled or ski down slippery slopes, going from Point A to Point K via Point W in a matter of seconds. Change, no matter how insignificant, can be very trying to accept. The same mind that wants to follow hard after the Lord sometimes construes very legalistic ideas in order to keep me on the straight and narrow. I once read a little book by Corrie ten Boom entitled NOT GOOD IF DETACHED, in which she mentioned that she carried all of her earthly possessions in one small duffel bag when she traveled. You, my beloved reader, would probably read that, conclude that it made perfect sense for Corrie’s needs and the places to which she traveled, and move on with your life. I, on the other hand, determined that I, too, must consolidate my luggage, no matter where I might be traveling or for how long I would be gone. Good Christians, I decided, only ever carried duffel bags. Consequently, permitting myself to carry only a few things and owning a Braille Bible that takes up six feet of shelving, I ended up without some of the New Testament and all of the Old during a three-month vacation out-of-state. You never know just how much you need the book of I Chronicles until you’re without it.
We can approach all of this from one of two standpoints–philosophical or psychological. From a philosophical perspective, it’s easiest to simply say that I have a heart of gold–which, again, is not to say that I’m perfect. Gold, you see, is beautiful to gaze upon, used for glorious endeavors, was once employed copiously in making the furnishings of the tabernacle. Yes, gold has its uses–but it isn’t perfect. It is beautiful, but impractical. It is far too malleable to be used in the fashioning of a shelf or door hinge or piece of electronic equipment. It bends too easily for anything heavier than worshipful or decorative purposes. And, if it has imperfections, they are much more visible than, say, the imperfections in aluminum. Aluminum must not be constantly refined if it wishes to be beautiful–indeed, aluminum’s purpose is not to be beautiful but to be used for more practical aims. Hearts of gold are filled with worship and praise, but have a tendency to be altogether too sensitive, too willing to bend under pressure, not quite strong enough by the world’s standards, and even the standards of some churches who want more aluminum and steel-hearted servants in their leadership positions.
Psychologically, I suppose you could say that I am over-analytical. That has always been a part of me. Coupled with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and occasional depression, however–none of which was I created with–that analytical mindset can get me in trouble.
But do you know what has the potential to draw us all so very, very close to the Lord Jesus? Tempests of various kinds. Certainly, I do not believe that God causes our trials–but I do know that He uses them to glorify Himself, and to help us remain in Him. It’s a matter of choice and of perspective. When we are overworked, overwhelmed, and overwrought, we can flounder about in the storm, trying to steer our own small boat and keep it from capsizing. Or, we can approach the One Who has power over all storms. We can cry out with the disciples, “Save us, Lord, we are perishing!”–although we might then be rebuked for our lack of faith. But to be chastised by the Lord is a joy mixed with the sorrow, for He disciplines those whom He loves. And then, whether we have cried out in terror or simply come to Him with abiding trust, we can watch Him calm that storm in our lives–behold His power, His control over everything that shapes us. And when all becomes calm and that boat of ours is stable, we can fall to our knees and worship Him–because He is God, and because He has been so faithful to us. Do I enjoy the trials I put myself through by considering each situation a hundredfold? No, but I do love the way in which the Lord uses them to draw me to Himself and, in the process, to continue shaping my character.
Many, many times following an in-home infusion procedure, I have felt thoroughly overwhelmed. Perhaps the infusion did not go as well or as quickly as it could have, or perhaps someone in the adjoining room was watching an obnoxious television program. It has been in moments like these that the Lord has so clearly reminded me of my need for Himself. What if I were more resilient? If that obnoxious program did not combine with the medical procedure in the way it does, then I might not have the need to seek the Lord the way I do. As it is, I often find myself in the sanctuary of some quiet room, listening to the local Christian radio station and worshiping the Lord. If I had aluminum at my core, there would be no need–but gold needs reshaping and refining in order to be the best it can be in His service, and those moments spent in worship as a post-Protein C exercise are some of the most fulfilling in my life.
In this state, too, I find that I quite literally need the Lord day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I am not given to cute little slogans because I feel that theology is almost always more complex than what a five-word thought can construe. However, if I were to plaster a saying on bumper stickers, bracelets, and T-shirts, it would be this: “Everything with Him; nothing without Him.” Back in high-school, I found myself feeling spiritually bereft. I was a young Christian at the time and was finding my faith tested by various circumstances. I think that most people would have left that part of their life in the Lord’s hands for a few weeks in order to concentrate on friends, family, schoolwork, and after-school activities. My response? I went to and from school, but that was about it. I spend the rest of that miniature valley cloistered in my room with the Bible, THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, and what little worship material we had at that time, trying to repair what had gone wrong in my daily following of the Savior. Even schoolwork got just enough attention to please instructors–not the thorough job I was accustomed to doing. I’m not proud of the latter admission, but I discuss this to illustrate the fact that the kind of over-analyzing I do facilitates a need that goes beyond anything in the world. Again, not something He causes or desires in my life, but something that He has used to keep me relying on Him every day, just as the people relied on Him to send manna during their desert wanderings.
And then, there’s the fact that the Lord often uses all of this to refine me, to make me more like Him if I will surrender all those frustrating quirks to Him. If the tiniest injury causes me more pain than the average person, all the more opportunity to sing and pray and give thanks until the throbbing passes. If the sound of animated conversation is filling me with dread and anger, what better opportunity to ask the Lord for patience, and to allow Him to develop in me the fruit of His Holy Spirit? On days when legalistic thoughts about the weight of luggage engulf me, it is then that I must cherish His grace more deeply than ever before, allowing Him to wash away every trace of those self-imposed regulations.
And you, my beloved reader? Chances are, you neither associate all types of furniture with moments in your spiritual life nor read people’s time-related approximations in literal terms. Quite probably, you are not guilty of slapping sincerity onto a conversation that merely required social small talk, nor do you find multi-tasking a grave impossibility. But you, too, have personality quirks–traits that are both a gift and a challenge. Mr. Businessman, you who are reading this while working on your fourth PowerPoint presentation this week, the assertive leadership qualities you have can be used to conduct a successful meeting, but can also be used to less of an advantage when your nine-year-old son accidentally throws a ball through the kitchen window. Devoted mother of three, the gentleness with which you shape your children’s lives is a gift almost exclusively, but take care that your soft-spoken ways don’t keep you from sharing vital information with someone in the church, if necessary. Highly-sensitive college student, empathy is one of God’s best gifts to us, so long as that empathy doesn’t lead to naiveté in whom you trust, what you are willing or able to give.
My point? We all have personality traits–whether conventional or not–that the Lord will use for His glory. Jesus proclaimed that He is the vine, and that we are all branches that must remain in His Word, in His grace and mercy, in order to accomplish anything for His kingdom (see John 15). Aside from direct gifts of the Holy Spirit, everything He gives us–from talents and skills to personality traits–can be used as a tool for His glory, or turned inward to be used for our own self-centered purposes. But with His help and by His grace, we can allow Him to refine those traits that are still rough around the edges–redirecting all that analyzing for the use of studying the Scriptures, for example, until there is none left over for legalism or literalism. As He gives the grace, I will continue to use even those things that create tempests in my life to get closer to Him, to glorify Him in all I can. We are fearfully and wonderfully made–a gift of our loving Creator, Who will use what He has given us to glorify Himself, if we let Him..